Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
As grand as the themes of good and evil, needs and deservings, power and responsibility and such forth are, superhero movies are generally pretty straightforward in premise: hero stops villain from wreaking havoc. As off-putting as this kind of simplicity might sound, it's usually the right way to go. If you pack enough substance into your characters and adhere your plot to these linear margins, you can actually wind up saying a healthy amount (and having a lot of fun). The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gets half of this formula down pat. Although Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker is still a moreover undistinguished identity, his emotional magnitude (re: his relationship with Gwen Stacy) is enough to keep him valid through the storm of lunacy that is his second feature. And it's not even that lunacy that holds him back. The problem isn't how wild his conquests are, how silly some of the action sequences feel, or how absolutely bonkers his villains turn out to be. It's all the other stuff (and yes, if you can believe it, there's a ton more going on in this movie than what I've already mentioned — that's the issue). All the plot twists, tertiary mysteries, ominous flashbacks, abject reveals, and weightlessly sinister pawns in this brooding game that, save for its fun with the baddies, takes itself way too seriously. All that stuff that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 thinks is necessary to make Peter Parker matter? It actually does just the opposite.
Peter is at his best when he's playing Tracy and Hepburn with the girlfriend he's perpetually disappointing (the eternally charming Emma Stone), or trying to win back the favor of the only remaining parental figure from whom he's rapidly slipping away (Sally Field, reminding us why she's a household name), or angling to connect with the mentally unstable engineer who just wants people to notice him (Jamie Foxx working his comic shtick with a frightening zest). We have the most fun with Peter when he's playing the simplest games, and we connect best with him on similar ground. But Peter and company, at the behest of The Amazing Spider-Man franchise's Sandman-sized aspirations, spend so much time exploring new avenues: the secrets surrounding the death and work of Richard Parker, the behind-the-curtains operations of OsCorp, the nefarious goings on in the waterside penitentiary Ravencroft.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
As a result of the grand stab at world building, there is just so much stuff that Peter has to wade through in this movie, dragging the likes of Gwen and his boyhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan, mastering angst, menace, and upper-class privilege all at once) into the dark crevasses of narrative waste. With so many diversions into the emotionally vacant, deliberately joyless explorations of Parker family origin stories, secret brief cases, and underground subways — The Amazing Spider-Man 2 rivals Captain America: The Winter Soldier in complexity, but forgets the necessary ingredient of fun — we barely have enough energy left when the good stuff hits.
And in truth, the good stuff isn't really good enough to sustain us through all the duller periods. Garfield and Stone do have laudable chemistry. Foxx is a hoot as Peter's maniacal new foe, especially when paired with the grimacing DeHaan. And the action, while often straying from any aesthetic authenticity, is nothing shy of neat-o. It's all passable, occasionally worthy of a hearty smile, but rarely anything you'll be definitively pleased you took the time to see.
But beyond coming up short in the micro, the film's regal downfall is its scope. With so much to do, both in accomplishing its own necessary plot points and setting up for those to come in future films, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 doesn't seem to take time to make sure it's having fun with its own premise. And if it isn't having fun, we won't be either.
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Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection
Here's a feat: taking what is likely the oldest, most well-known story in the world, and making a retelling feel inventive. Over the course of its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, Darren Aronofsky's Noah takes many forms — Tolkien-esque fantasy, trippy psychological thriller, merciless dissection of the dark points of abject faith — never feeling too rigidly confined to the parameters of the familiar tale that we've all experienced in the form of bedtime stories, religious education lessons, and vegetable-laden cartoons. As many forms as the parable has taken over the past few thousand years, Aronofsky manages to find a few new takes.
The director's thumbprint is branded boldly on Russell Crowe's Noah, a man who begins his journey as a simple pawn of God and evolves into a dimensional human as tortured as Natalie Portman's ballerina or Jared Leto's smack head. Noah's obsession and crisis: his faith. The peak of the righteous descendant of Seth (that's Adam and Eve's third son — the one who didn't die or bash his brother's head in with a rock), Noah is determined to carry out the heavenly mission imparted upon him via ambiguous, psychedelic visions. God wants him to do something — spoilers: build an ark — and he will do it. No matter what.
No matter what it means to his family, to his lineage, to his fellow man, to the world. He's going to do it. No matter what. The depths to which Aronofsky explores this simple concept — the nature of unmitigated devotion — makes what we all knew as a simplistic A-to-B children's story so gripping. While the throughline is not a far cry from the themes explored in his previous works, the application of his Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, and Black Swan ideas in this movie does not feel like a rehashing. Experiencing such modern, humane ideas in biblical epic is, in fact, a thrill-ride.
Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection
Although Aronofsky accesses some highly guttural stuff inside of his title character, he lets whimsy and imagination take hold of the world outside of him. Jumping headfirst into the fantastical, the director lines his magical realm with rock monsters — "Watcher" angels encased in Earth-anchored prisons as punishment for their betrayal of God — and a variety of fauna that range in innovation from your traditional white dove to some kind of horned, scaled dog bastardization.
But the most winning elements of Noah, and easily the most surprising, come when Aronofsky goes cosmic. He jumps beyond the literal to send us coursing through eons to watch the creation of God's universe, matter exploding from oblivion, a line of creatures evolving (in earnest) into one another as the planet progresses to the point at which we meet our tortured seafarer. Aronofsky's imagination, his aptitude as a cinematic magician, peak (not just in terms of the film, but in terms of his career) in these scenes.
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With all this propped against the stark humanity of his story — not just in terms of Crowe's existential spiral, but in character beats like grandfather Methuselah's relationship with the youngsters, in little Ham's playful teasing of his new rock monster pet — Aronofsky manages something we never could have anticipated from Noah. It's scientific, cathartic, humane. Impressively, this age-old tale, here, is new. And beyond that feat, it's a pretty winning spin.
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UPDATE: It's official. This is getting ugly. After being fired, Keith Olbermann claims he's planning to sue former employer Current TV and that he's furious with network boss Al Gore. according to TMZ.com.
ORIGINAL STORY: Keith Olbermann's career hits yet another rough patch. After acting as Chief News Officer of Current TV since February of 2011, Olbermann has been fired by the network, which is run by former Vice President Al Gore and Joel Hyatt. Olbermann was also the host of Countdown, a program that originated at Olbermann's previous network MSNBC. When Olbermann parted ways with the company in 2011, he brought Countdown to Current TV. The longtime journalist will be replaced by former New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer, who will begin hosting Viewpoint with Eliot Spitzer tonight, March 30, at 8 PM ET/PT. Regarding Olbermann's release, Current TV stated, "We created Current to give voice to those Americans who refuse to rely on corporate-controlled media and are seeking an authentic progressive outlet ... Current was also founded on the values of respect, openness, collegiality, and loyalty to our viewers. Unfortunately these values are no longer reflected in our relationship with Keith Olbermann and we have ended it." Olbermann released his own statement via Twitter: "I'd like to apologize to my viewers and my staff for the failure of Current TV. Editorially, Countdown had never been better. But for more than a year I have been imploring Al Gore and Joel Hyatt to resolve our issues internally, while I've been not publicizing my complaints, and keeping the show alive for the sake of its loyal viewers and even more loyal staff. Nevertheless, Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt, instead of abiding by their promises and obligations and investing in a quality news program, finally thought it was more economical to try to get out of my contract. It goes almost without saying that the claims against me implied in Current's statement are untrue and will be proved so in the legal actions I will be filing against them presently. To understand Mr. Hyatt’s 'values of respect, openness, collegiality and loyalty,' I encourage you to read of a previous occasion Mr. Hyatt found himself in court for having unjustly fired an employee. That employee’s name was Clarence B. Cain [Olbermann provides this link to a New York Times article]. In due course, the truth of the ethics of Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt will come out. For now, it is important only to again acknowledge that joining them was a sincere and well-intentioned gesture on my part, but in retrospect a foolish one. That lack of judgment is mine and mine alone, and I apologize again for it." On Wednesday, March 28, The Hollywood Reporter stated that Olbermann had a meeting with the Showtime network, but that (according to Olbermann), "It didn't really go anywhere." Spitzer co-hosted the political talk show In the Arena on CNN from 2010 to 2011, and has made numerous appearances on political programs such as Real Time with Bill Maher. Spitzer has expressed appreciation for this new position: "I am thrilled to have the opportunity to host a show on Current TV that will provide insight into and analysis of the critical issues on the minds of Americans today." Regarding Spitzer's hire, the network's chairman Al Gore stated, "Eliot Spitzer is a veteran public servant and an astute observer of the issues of the day. He has important opinions and insights. Eliot relishes the kind of constructive discourse that our viewers will appreciate this important election year." [Politico]
Since we're allowed this four-day weekend to give thanks, we thought we'd keep spreading the love with our picks for celebrities we're all thankful for. Considering we spend all day writing about them, it's only fair.
Anderson Cooper had a gigantic year. He got his own talk show; discovered Courtney Stodden and had the pleasure of featuring her various times on CNN; went spray tanning with Snooki; and tried coffee for the first time. And as great as it has been to watch him do all those things, the true reason I’m thankful for him above anyone else this year is because he reminded all of us what it’s like to laugh so uncontrollably it’s embarrassing. Back in August, while talking about how French actor Gerard Depardieu urinated on an airplane, little Andy made a pun he found so amusing that his on-air composure was wrapped up in some pastry dough, put in the oven of some innocent house, and tossed into the center of a tornado, never to be seen again. What then surfaced were the noises a girl scout makes when she’s informed that because she’s sold the most cookies that year, she’s won a pass to the spend an entire day at the local science museum completely by herself, without any other kids to cramp her intelligent style. In that moment, Anderson became the greatest person to ever live, and includes everyone with crazy illnesses that the BBC has ever deemed worthy of a documentary. -Hannah Lawrence
This year, I’m thankful for Kim Kardashian because it really takes a strong woman to convince a man to marry her after six months of dating and without living together first. I also admire Kim for successfully planning the most gorgeous and detailed and pristine and beautiful and magnificent wedding to take place above sea level, and the way she got most of the vendors to donate their services to her. Additionally, I think it’s incredible she was PAID to get married, made money off both her engagement AND her wedding photos, and held her head up high when the report came out that she really wanted to marry New York Knick Danilo Gallinari, but had to settle for New Jersey Net Kris Humphries because Danilo rejected her proposal for them to get married and play house on top of two gold crested lions in Las Vegas. So basically, I guess I’m saying I’m really happy I’m around when Kim Kardashian is because I feel like the air is purer and more exciting with her around…it’s just as if she’s going around and personally adding a third atom to all the oxygen molecules in the world because she loves us. -Hannah Lawrence
We could spend hours lauding his slew of knockout 2011 performances—Rochester in Jane Eyre, Magneto in X-Men: First Class, Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method and his explosive lead role in Shame—but Michael Fassbender is more than just an on screen chameleon. This year, he emerged as one of Hollywood's classiest stars, a dashing gent with a real life presence that's powerful and charming. He makes us laugh, he makes us think, he makes us melt from a charisma overdose—and that's just in interviews! He's a real deal movie star, and in a business currently founded on mind-numbing robot blockbusters and Kevin James falling down, his rise to fame is like the second coming. -Matthew Patches
Herman Cain Every four years, America has a Presidential Race. And every four years, someone enters the competition that, regardless of their politics and agenda, makes for a great headline. This year it's Hermain Cain, a Republican hopeful and our new favorite political celebrity. No matter how much we learn about Cain or hear from his campaign, every tibit complicates the fascinating man: He's the former CEO of a pizza restaurant chain, he's a gospel vocalist, he's been accused of sexual harassment by a former flame, and most recently, he's been a pop culture-referencing maestro. In the last few months, he's gone on to unknowingly quote the theme song from Pokemon: The Movie and support a plan seemingly pulled from Sim City 4. Baffling? Yes. Entertaining? More so. -Matthew Patches
Ryan Gosling’s Dog, George
If you know me, you’d probably be under the impression that Ryan Gosling would be at least one of my picks for celebrities I thank the heavens for at this, the most thankful time of the year. But nay. I thank the celeb that helps make Mr. Gosling so worthy of our praises: his lovable mutt, George. Does George have style like Ryan? Yep. Check out his doggy Mohawk. Is George just as adorable as his crush-worthy master? Yep. Look at adorable mug. Nothing’s cuter than a man who loves his dog as much as Gosling does and almost nothing is cuter than George’s little puppy face. He’s the girl-bait Gosling doesn’t even need. -Kelsea Stahler
Who can take a normal sentence? Sprinkle it with rasp? Cover it in crazy and nervous twitch or two? The Nightman. The Nightman can. That’s what Charlie Day does to everything he does. He can take a normal, perhaps slightly quirky sentence and turn it into comedy gold with nothing more than his signature delivery. Sure, the only celeb news he’s managed to merit in the past year is that his wife (and the object of his It’s Always Sunny character’s stalkery affection) is having a baby, but not every celeb can serve up the juicy gossip like LiLo and the Kardashians. Some celebrities are celebrities because they’re simply awesome. And for that we thank Charlie. -Kelsea Stahler
When an actor spends a good deal of his career as a relative unknown—recognizable by face alone from a sitcom a handful of us have caught in syndication—and then skyrockets to notoriety with a critically dynamite drama series and a surplus of movie roles, you’d think he might get a pretty big head. But Bryan Cranston has maintained the humble, silly, self-deprecating charm that, combined with being the best actor ever, makes him the celebrity for whom I am most thankful. Cranston is ever willing to joke about himself, his career, and even his deadly serious AMC show Breaking Bad. From his goofy talk show appearances (hiding grapes in his pants and bringing mock crystal meth to the hosts he visits) to his costume parties with costar Aaron Paul, to his terrific and fearless appearance on Saturday Night Live, the charming, down-to-earth but zany Cranston is undoubtedly my celebrity hero of 2011. -Michael Arbeiter
Some might call it unfair to vie for the thrones of both dork and hip hop culture. Some have tried to venture into both territories, but few have achieved more than a fleeting, novelty fame. But Donald Glover masters all worlds. The actor, improviser, standup and rapper all rolled into one is lovably impish when he’s bashfully joking with talk show hosts or teaming with Danny Pudi on Community to form what can best be described as the human equivalent to Calvin and Hobbes, but ferociously slick once he replaces his thick-rimmed glasses with a monochromatic hoodie and belts out some of the best poetry in today’s hip hop world as Childish Gambino. As he rises to fame, Donald seems to emanate more and more that his only goal is to have and make fun—you can rarely see him not clad in a smile only appropriately captured in widescreen cinemas. Acting or rapping, Donald is still a kid at heart, and a wacky one at that, and he wouldn’t have you believe anything otherwise. -Michael Arbeiter
Whether he’s showing off those gorgeous abs or ripping out someone’s still-beating heart, Skarsgard’s badass antics on HBO’s True Blood have captivated our television screens for four seasons now and we’re still thirsty for more. This hunky piece of vampire eye candy gives us plenty to be thankful for. For one, he’s got that whole bad boy appeal working for him, which he pulls off to perfection time and time again. Additionally, his character offers equal amounts of sex appeal, sarcasm, and power. Not only can he deliver a line with conviction, but he can kick some serious vampire ass and look really good while doing it. Those killer abs, pecks, and back muscles are enough to keep anyone coming back for second helpings -- not to mention those piercing blue eyes. -Kelly Schremph
In a world full of Kim Kardashians and Lindsay Lohans, it’s nice to see an actress actually dedicated to her craft. McCarthy made comedy gold this year with the release of the box office hilarious hit, Bridesmaids and continues to fill our hearts with laughter through entertaining interviews and hysterical SNL skits. And let’s not forget about her CBS show, Mike & Molly, which brought her first Emmy win. This girl is on fire! Of course, my loyalties stem as far back as her Gilmore Girls days when she played the lovable and kooky Sookie – she’s absolutely amazing. But not only is she one of the funniest women on television, she also seems like a really cool person that doesn’t get too caught up in all the Hollywood hoopla, which is getting harder and harder to come by these days. It’s for all these reasons and so much more that I’m extremely thankful for Ms. McCarthy! -Kelly Schremph
The easiest target of 2011, Charlie Sheen probably made me laugh more than anyone (although I was fortunate enough to have not attended his “Torpedo of Truth” road show); he absolutely made me laugh more than anyone who wasn't trying to. It’s uncool, passé to exalt Sheen – be it ironically or unironically – at this point, but let’s not forget that for a good chunk of the year, he provided great entertainment, much more than ever existed on his barely chuckle-worthy “most watched” sitcom. His was an utterly fascinating pop-culture flameout to watch, especially since Sheen so badly wanted to televise it and especially since Sheen made a genuine, rarely seen tumble from the top – at least the top of the TV-salary hierarchy. Plus, although such words and phrases as “tiger’s blood” and “Adonis DNA” and “winnnnning” have by now been Tweeted and T-shirted ad nauseam, they were once upon a time hilariously inane and, believe it or not, fresh. But Sheen, whose awesome collapse started in February, was the gift that basically kept on giving all year, because his Comedy Central Roast, maybe the network’s best ever, aired just a couple months ago, meaning that he really did entertain us for the balance of 2011. -Brian Marder
Don’t vomit. And don’t worry – this won’t be yet yet another fawning quasi-obituary or hyperbolic praise song, though, truth be told, that would all come very easily for me. Jobs didn’t make the cut just because he passed away this year – even though I admittedly added points to his score since it was the last time he could technically appear on such a list. Remember that while it may feel like a lifetime ago, the now ubiquitous iPad 2 was actually introduced in (March) 2011, and Jobs was the one who unveiled it on stage and obviously had a major hand in its conception and genesis, like all Apple products, and he did all that while he was presumably gravely ill. He once again forever changed the way we consume entertainment and non-entertainment, and I’m still reading his biography (on one of the devices he’ll be remembered for) and still watching the bevy of posthumous TV specials about him. In short, he’s still entertaining me; it’ll be a long time before he stops, and it’s safe to say that I’m not alone. Oops – so much for not eulogizing him. -Brian Marder
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.